Sermons That Work

In the Days before Kindergarten…, Epiphany 4 (C) – 2001

January 28, 2001

In the days before kindergarten gave pupils their first taste of learning, a teacher gave a first grader a gift he would use every day of his life. She taught him to read. The teacher, whose name was Nanny Arbuckle, “loved” her pupils into learning and taught them the joy of school. In a way, though, she taught them too well. Their attachment to her left them terribly fearful of 2nd Grade. Imagine their surprise and chagrin to be called by the school system to move on to another grade — a new class — a challenge they had not imagined and for which they felt unprepared. Many panicked when they realized Nanny would not be their teacher forever and that they would have to move up to a new class.

Of course, Nanny and the pupils’ parents reassured them, the students were promoted to the next grade, and it all worked out. The experience, though, gives us a tiny glimmer of understanding, a sense of what Jeremiah felt as a young man when he was called by the Lord to be a prophet to the nations.

Imagine poor Jeremiah – minding his own business, when suddenly God barged into his life – when he heard God’s call to him. Calling him to be God’s prophet, to speak God’s word to the people. And he was not called to be just any old prophet. God would set him “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah resisted. He was reluctant to obey this call, much as Moses, Noah, and Jonah, among other Old Testament characters, had been. But God wouldn’t take a simple, “No,” or any kind of “No.”

So God and Jeremiah engaged in a little dialogue. God said, “I picked you out – even before you were born – I chose you to be my prophet.”

Jeremiah replied, “O, no, I don’t even know how to speak. I am only a youth.”

God countered, “Don’t say that. For to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you shall speak.”

Jeremiah pled out of fear. God assured him, “Be not afraid for I am with you to deliver you.”

Then Jeremiah was speechless. But he must have continued to indicate his resistance to God’s call, until finally, as Jeremiah remembered, “The Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold I have put my words in your mouth.”

This dialogue was critical for Jeremiah’s decision, in a way similar to that of many other leaders of the Old Testament.

Perhaps we should pause to wonder why God, in biblical times, seems to have continually chosen the most unwilling characters to do God’s will. Why would God have enlisted so young and inexperienced a person as Jeremiah for so awesome a task?

The obvious answer is that the one God called was called for qualities other than gifted speech. We can be certain that Jeremiah’s success rested, not within himself, but on God’s word and God’s strength, as God promised this reluctant prophet.

Eventually, as we learn from the latter chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, all the power and success of Jeremiah’s life resulted from his new relationship with God. As his dialogue with God continued, as God taught him what to tell the people in God’s name, God empowered Jeremiah with the strength and courage to do the work he was given to do.

Jeremiah was able to move ahead into the new day because he learned to trust God’s assurance. God said that, despite whatever hesitations Jeremiah might have felt, God absolutely wanted him to be a prophet and would support and sustain him. God would love Jeremiah as would no other.

That’s not the end of the sermon, though. We don’t get off lightly here. We don’t get the comfort of just learning about God’s dialogue with Jeremiah. For God did not limit to Bible times the blowing of God’s spirit among God’s people. God’s spirit moves among us in our day as well. So we might ask, “Are we, too, called by God as Jeremiah was called?”

Often we must confess our reluctance to heed God’s call. We can always find a reason not to continue the journey of faith and commitment to which we feel God calling us:

  • I’m too old or too young.
  • I don’t speak well or know enough.
  • I’m too busy.
  • I can’t do that.
  • It must not really be God calling.
  • I can serve, but not now, maybe later.

However, if we are willing to engage in a dialogue with God, we might see something else. We must look beyond. We do this by continuing the dialogue with God. This will allow God’s spirit into our lives.

The key to Jeremiah’s moving beyond his fear lies in continuing the dialogue. This is true for us, too. If we only have a monologue, all we will have is the chance to do all the speaking and all the listening -listening mostly to our own ignorance of life’s greater callings and our limited vision of what challenges God may have in store for us in God’s kingdom.

Like Jeremiah, we all called to continue the dialogue. We are all called into a relationship with God that is just as challenging as Jeremiah’s.

God tells us first, as God did the prophet of old, that God will be with us, that God will sustain us, that God will love us as no other. We can rest assured of God’s support and guidance and strength. God will sustain us in the task.

Through our baptism, God calls us to serve the world, to love and nurture what is good, to mend and help transform, through God’s power, what is weak or distorted. We are each called into God’s household to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood.”

Some of us will respond to God’s call eagerly. Others less so. Each of us is likely to be somewhat reluctant, at least at first, like Jeremiah.

But, if we engage in dialogue with God, we can learn to respond positively as Jeremiah did because we, too, are assured that the God who calls us remains forever with us to sustain us.

The living God, in whose name we are baptized, continually speaks to us, through the church, through the Scriptures and Sacraments, through our prayers, through the voice of the Spirit. God speaks to us at unexpected moments: through the created world around us; through the hands and voices of other people; and even in the silences of trials and unanswered prayers.

The God who has called us is always with us, speaking, if we will listen and, if we will accept it. God, who is always there for us, will give us God’s love and support and nourishment, with the same grace that inspired Jeremiah.

Despite any hesitations and uncertainties that may attack us, we can learn from Jeremiah’s dialogue with God to be as steadfast as this prophet was in discovering God’s call to us and in heeding God’s words in every situation we meet.

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Christopher Sikkema


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